Naruhito, Japan’s new emperor who was crowned on Wednesday, said he sincerely hopes for the people’s happiness, the nation’s development and world peace. Just like his father Akihito, the abdicated king who came to the throne 30 years ago, Naruhito stressed the importance of “peace.”
When mentioning Japan’s pacific constitution, however, the new Japanese emperor stopped short of clarifying his will to observe the constitution unlike his father, swearing that he will “always think about the people and approach them following the constitution to fulfill his responsibilities as symbol of the integration of Japan and its people.” Pundits say Naruhito has taken a neutral position amid the increasingly polar debate over the revision of Japan’s pacific constitution. Some express concerns as the emperor’s will to uphold the peaceful constitution appears to have weakened compared to his predecessor.
At 11:10 p.m. Wednesday, Naruhito attended a post-enthronement royal audience at Matsunoma, a reception hall located in the Imperial Palace. At the venue, the new Japanese emperor had his first meeting with 266 policymakers and representatives including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, cabinet members, and heads of municipalities.
“I will bear in mind the steps that my father has taken and engrave the traces of successive kings in my heart,” said Emperor Naruhito in his accession speech. In his crowning ceremony in January 1989, Akihito said he swore to “safeguard the Japanese constitution and fulfill responsibilities accordingly.” The expression of “safeguard” points to the abdicated emperor’s will to keep the pacific constitution.
“Naruhito’s remarks cut both ways. It can be interpreted as a will to follow not only the current constitution but the revised version,” explained Akihiro Sado, a professor at Chukyo University. “The new emperor wasn’t exactly revealing his will to revise the constitution. Rather, he showed his determination to fulfill his role as emperor, a symbol stipulated in the pacific constitution.”
Experts suggested that the new emperor of Japan used a “neutral expression” on the constitution considering that he did not experience war and that more people are voicing the need to revise the constitution, a far cry from 30 years ago.
“The zeitgeist is key here. Back in 1989, the memory of war was still fresh, so most citizens were on the side of pacific constitution,” said Professor Lee Won-deok of Kookmin University. “But there are two different camps over the debate, so I think Naruhito said he would follow the constitution rather than observe the constitution.” This suggests a possibility that the fading guilt and sense of responsibility about the war currently permeating Japanese society are reflected on the emperor’s choice of words.